A road that lives up to its name, as it had the reputation of being the most dangerous and deadly road in the world before a new, much safer, tarmac section was built in 2006 …
More than 3,000 metres of ascent ...
Officially known as the Yungas Road, it runs from La Paz to Coroico and is just over 80 kilometres long. It was built in part by prisoners of the Chaco war. After crossing the Cumbre pass, at an altitude of 4,600 metres, it’s more than 3,000 metres downhill, spread over around 60 kilometres, to the village of Coroico. This route was so dangerous that it was once described as the most dangerous in the world, with up to 300 people losing their lives every year, an average of almost one a day. You can see this by the number of crosses lining the road. Entire buses used to fall several hundred metres into the precipice. In 1983, a bus accident killed over a hundred people. As well as being dangerous and vertiginous like many roads in the Andes, the Death Road was very busy at the time, as it was the only road linking La Paz, the Yungas and the north of the Bolivian Amazon, so many vehicles had to pass each other in places where the road was only a few metres wide, Add to that the unstable terrain, which is prone to landslides, capricious weather during the rainy season and dense fog, which is very common in this region.
A new, safer road
After years of construction work, due to the steep terrain of this region, a new section was inaugurated in 2006. Today, the majority of traffic uses the new road, which bypasses the most dangerous spots, so only a few vehicles, some tourists and many mountain bikers continue to use the old route. Located just a few dozen kilometres from the capital, many Pacenians take this route every weekend, and a number of specialised agencies have sprung up. It is now one of the major attractions in the La Paz region for many foreign tourists. The route takes you from an altitude of 4,650 to 1,500 metres, and the variation in scenery between the start and finish, from a cold, arid mountain pass to exuberant jungle, is extraordinary. Although there are still several fatalities every year, the route is safe for experienced cyclists and during the dry season (April to November). You’ll also need a quality bike, which you can hire in La Paz, but the easiest way is to go through an agency. Thaki, in partnership with a specialist mountain bike agency, offers you a choice of very good quality semi-rigid or full-suspension bikes, and good protective equipment. Full-suspension is clearly not the best choice.In partnership with a specialist mountain bike agency, Thaki offers you a choice of top-quality semi-rigid or full-suspension bikes, and a good selection of protective equipment. A full-suspension bike is clearly not essential, as it’s still a road bike and not at all technical. However, those less used to mountain biking will find this type of bike more comfortable. And off you go for a day of thrills, arriving in Coroico to relax by the pool and enjoy a few days in the region. If you want to continue in the extreme sports vein, Coroico is the best place in Bolivia for a rafting adventure, as well as for trying your hand at canyoning, but there are also other, more leisurely activities on offer, such as a visit to a finca, a coffee or cocoa plantation, a horse ride or a number of hiking possibilities. For the more sporty and good cyclists, we advise you to do the road of death in the opposite direction, uphill, from Yolosa to the main road. Although the road is pretty and you can get your adrenalin pumping during the descent, experienced mountain bikers will regret the lack of technicality of this road and cyclists will surely want to do the uphill as well. In fact, every year there’s a challenge, Yolosa-La Cumbre, linking the summit of the pass from Yolosa, with a difference in altitude of almost 4,000 metres!
Biking in La Paz
The Death Road is a classic in the La Paz region, but it’s not the only ride you can do on a mountain bike, far from it. The Muela del Diablo, for example, offers a superb technical descent over Lipari, you can also climb the Hampaturi waterfalls from Irpavi, Chacaltaya from El Alto or the Palca canyon… A whole host of different and varied outings, most of which can be done independently by good cyclists. Some agencies also offer Sorata-style outings between the Cordillera and the Yungas. At Thaki, we’ll be happy to advise you on mountain biking, whether you want to go it alone or with assistance. What’s more, we offer our customers a paper guide to La Paz, which groups together a number of things to do near the capital, including hikes, treks, mountain bike outings and other activities, as well as restaurants, nightlife and other cultural and festive addresses. In other cycling news, we at Thaki are currently working on new itinerant cycling programmes. In other cycling news, we at Thaki are currently working on new itinerant cycling programmes. The first programme to be launched will link the magnificent Sajama National Park and its volcanoes to the famous Salar de Uyuni, crossing the entire Altiplano from north to south, community by community. The route can be self-guided or with 4×4 assistance, to suit all requirements. Other programmes could be added, for example to Lake Titicaca or in the Cordillera. Reconnaissance will begin as soon as the fine weather arrives… We’ll keep you posted!
Accommodation in the Yungas
There are several nice hotels between Coroico and Yolosa, most of which have a swimming pool and offer activities, a restaurant and so on. A popular weekend destination for the inhabitants of La Paz, the hotel offer is very comprehensive. In fact, just a 3-hour drive from the city brings a radical change of climate and scenery, so it is quite logically, along with Sorata and Lake Titicaca, one of La Paz’s favourite places to escape the noisy capital for a while. With Thaki, we’d like to suggest the magnificent Sol y Luna lodge, made up of several cabins scattered around the forest, swimming pools and a pretty park… A perfect place to rest and recharge your batteries!